Sunday, 7 September 2008

A corpse in the road.

I got a message from Dave Hall, the eagle eyed farmer from Wanstone Farm last night and popped in to see him this morning.
He produced a perfectly fresh and undamaged corpse of a small wader. He'd found it at Westcliffe, near Wallets Court as he drove home, he'd done well to spot such a small bird and realise it might be interesting. I was surprised to see it was a juvenile Grey (Red) Phalarope. These little waders spend much of the time swimming. They breed in marshy tundra around the Arctic but for three quarters of the year they become a marine species in tropical and sub-tropical waters where ample food concentrations well up to the surface. It is during the migration from the arctic to their non breeding grounds that they are vulnerable to storms and bad weather, numbers often being blown inland and found at reservoirs and other inland pools. I assume that this bird was a victim of last weeks bad weather.

During the stormy weather it would be difficult for the bird to feed and it is probably lack of food as much as the physical demands of the stormy conditions that will have caused this bird to end up blown inland. The bill looks quite fine but compared to the similarly sized Re-necked Phalarope the bill is shorter and stouter.

This bird was moulting from juvenile into first winter plumage, the pale grey feathers on the back and mantle are the colour that wintering birds end up. With the wing open the pale wing bar formed by the tips of the coverts is obvious and it shows up well on birds flying over the sea.
Phalarope have their legs set far back on the bodies, as they swim ore than they walk. The breast and wing linings look snowy white.
The toes of the Phalarope have small lobes along the toes and the feet are partially webbed, to fit with their maritime life style.

Red Phalarope female photographed in Spitsbergen June 2005

We call them Grey Phalaropes in the UK. but the recognised name is now Red Phalarope, a name used in the USA. When they are breeding the adults are indeed Red, the female is brighter than the male.
Red Phalarope male photographed in Spitsbergen June 2005

The duller male does all the incubation duties and probably most of the after hatching care. The female has been observed helping with the young but in general these duties are done by the male and even then the chicks are left to fend for themselves from an early age.